A Thank You Letter to my Toughest Kid

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I never thought I’d write you, of all people, a thank you note. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, for what on earth do I have to thank you? If there’s a debt of gratitude here, isn’t it from you to me?

But I’m reading “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life- A Search for the Soul of Kindness,” by Marc Ian Barasch, and like any book worth the paper it’s printed on, with every page I am propelled into an emotional tug of war.

“Soren Kierkegaard said we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, “reminiscent,” he says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.” Instead, he turns the whole thing on its head: “No, the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!”

Was Kierkegaard onto something? Is it I who owes you for the privilege it has been to love you? For the way that love has transformed me? Shaped me? Whittled me down to the core of my personhood? Dared me to look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am– flaws and imperfections included– so that I could fully understand who YOU really are and all the ways we are more or less the same? So I could see how similar our struggles really are? So I could humbly take note of all the things I want to change about you- that I pray you outgrow- and clearly see they are the very things I hope and pray for myself?

Like a hurricane, you have torn through my life at times, upsetting all that was so meticulously thought out and designed for my comfort and enjoyment. My ease. You force me to regroup. Re-think. Re-configure. Your selfishness forces my hand to be more generous in word and in deed. Your frequent lack of concern for my feelings forces me to see all the ways I, too, am selfish and self-centered and want the universe to revolve around me.

Your strong-willed spirit requires so much more from me than I knew I had.  Your absolute insistence to do things your way instead of mine constantly reminds me that I do not own you. You belong to yourself and you need to live in a way that makes sense to you, even when I don’t understand, even when it would never work for me.

You would not let me be a lazy mom (if such a thing exists). You’ve demanded I be present. Involved. Aware. Creative. Much more thoughtful. Smarter. Clever. Strategizing and learning to cope with what I, in my piety, have deemed a difficult person.

For all the circumstances you dragged me into involuntarily that required me to get over myself; That obligated me to learn how to circle the wagons in loyalty even when my heart was breaking in humility, thank you. For compelling me to dig deeper and become the best version of myself as a mom, a woman, person, just by being who you are, thank you.  Because of you, I’ve seen the very worst and very best of what I’m able to be. Do. Overcome. Persevere through in order to give you more. More. More. More. Thank you.

You see, the other children are easy. Rule followers. Quick to listen. Quick to act. Wanting to please. They require so little of me, really. I can relax around them.  But not you. Your struggles. Your needs. Your unwillingness to just do things my way, dammit will not let me rest. They have driven me crazy with anger and frustration and grief and made me search. Search, search, search.

You have kept me awake at night, gripped with fear. Whispering prayers in desperation. Prayers for you, prayers for me. Holy utterings that one of us will somehow get this right. This growing. This learning. This becoming. And somehow, even though I am the parent and you are the child, it’s happening together. It’s happening to both of us at once. While I am trying to teach you, you are teaching me. And though I would not have chosen it to be like this– while I would have rather taken the easy road, it’s the difficulties here that are refining both of us.

And I have finally accepted that the toughest chapters of my life have always. Always. Always been followed by the best chapters of my life.  And that includes the pages with your name on them. And your name is on all of them.

I’ve always believed each child should secretly suspect they are their mother’s favorite; That I’ve done such a thorough job favoring each one of you, NONE of you would believe this is about you.

So if you’re reading this and do imagine it to be you? Thanks, kid. I owe you.

 

{Looking for another Mother’s Day read? Check out The Mosaic of Motherhood from a few years back.}

 

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This Is Why.

 

_DSC4050-2It’s been 17 years today. Seventeen very long years. Sometimes they feel haunted. And you would think. One would think. I mean, really. What else is there to say or think or write? Have the memories not faded? You were so young. Are there not…new thoughts to be thought? New memories to be made? How is there sadness all these years later. Is…something wrong with you? Will you ever be over this? How come you’re not?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

All of the above.

But this is what I do know: When you lose someone, it’s possible to spend the rest of your life- no matter how good or bad that life is- wondering what it would be like. What it could’ve been like. If they were still here.

And the dangerous part of this is, I know, that every single idea you construct is purely imagination. You don’t know. You can’t know. But somehow you imagine things would somehow be so much different. And better. And easier. Probably, this is not true. But perhaps it is. I want to think that it is. But I’ll never know.

I miss the future I was supposed to have with you.

And it’s such a beautiful indulgence to imagine the way life may have turned out if you were still here. And somehow, in some way, there is still an ache inside me for the life I never got to have with you. It won’t go away. Some days, there is no place I can go to escape from the longing.

Somehow, I still want it.

I think about who I would be. Better. Happier. Easier. Lighter. Not so fucking complicated.

Maybe.

I think about who our kids would be. They would not carry The Empty Space. The heartache of living a life–an entire life– without their dad. I would not also be carrying it for them.

Maybe.

The Big Life Events pass by, the road inevitably paved by loss and a heavier weight than seems fair. But mainly, it’s the dailyness of you I miss for them. For me.

Logically, my brain understands. It may not have been easier. Or better. Or beautiful. Maybe it would’ve been worse? But I’ll never know. And it’s all the not knowing. All the not knowing all these years that won’t let go. And when I’m not being careful, grief is an unrelenting taskmaster.

I still imagine. I’m still left only to imagine and miss what might have been. I don’t need to be reminded that perhaps I’m missing out on what could be. I understand that. I know that. I do.

Tomorrow, I’ll do better.

But for today, I still wonder. And I still miss you. And what might’ve been. 10580065_740205752781930_7690649221112900995_n

Post Script~ When I have big feelings, I write about them. And without fail, people message me to say thank you. And they message me to say, “me too.” And that’s why I write. I know this post is sad. But I don’t write for sympathy. I write about what feels true today. I write for you to read it and feel relief in knowing that if you’ve felt this way too, you’re not alone.

 

 

Even When it is So Dark I Cannot See, You Are There {Healing from Grief}

{This post was originally published at Creative and Free as part of a ten day series entitled, Scary Stories. “Some hope only grows in the dark.” Thank you to Christina Hubbard for opening up her space and sharing it with other women to bravely tell our scary stories.


The night Mark died was such an ordinary night, which has always been so strange to me. And sort of curious. How can the night you lose your childhood love, your best friend, your husband, the father of your children be so typical? How can the night he is killed in a one car accident be such an ordinary night? But it was.

December 28th, 1998. We were visiting my parents and by 9:00 that night, my kids were tucked in tight, fast asleep and dreaming. We had even said bedtime prayers including ‘God bless Daddy and keep him safe.’ I would later struggle with that 10 second prayer for years to come.

The details I remember in hindsight are sort of amazing to me. I think maybe our minds take certain snapshots during traumatic events so that eventually, it’s a story we can relive and retell whether we like it or not. My dad was in the next room watching Seinfeld- his nightly ritual- and I was at the kitchen table with my mom, painting my nails Magic Mauve.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t really Magic mauve. Had it been magic, the phone wouldn’t have rung a few minutes later bringing the news of Mark’s accident and death…

Click HERE to finish reading over at Creative and Free.

Proof of Survival

wooden scar

I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar. I don’t want a scar.

But now I have two.

Two scars I absolutely hate.

Like crooked seams sewn into my once smooth and perfect skin; they look like mistakes.

And not little scars, either. Long ones, on my collarbone and along my wrist.

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{Over two months ago I was in an accident that broke my right collarbone and left wrist. Both injuries required separate surgeries; both surgeries required plates and screws.}

And up until very recently, I’ve kept both scars completely covered- partly because I just didn’t want to see them (though my wrist was covered by a cast) and partly because I was worried they would gross out other people, too.

But all along I’ve been thinking, ‘You’re gonna have to face these scars. Uncover them. Accept them. Make peace with them. And <gag> embrace them. Because they’re not going anywhere.’

{Continue reading over at Creative and Free…Where this was originally published as a guest post}

Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

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“You’re like our little pet,” my daughter said, smiling.

As if this were a good, sweet way to be and I should, perhaps, feel happy and loved.

Happy and loved to be fed and bathed and groomed and cared for so gently and meticulously.

And sometimes I do. Sort of. For a minute or two.

Almost 2 weeks after a very scary accident which left me with a broken right collarbone and a broken left wrist, and one week since surgery, I mostly always feel loved. And here and there, I sometimes feel happy. Except for when I don’t. It has been the ongoing paradox of life. The way the worst of times pave and weave together a broken and unsteady well-worn path with the best of times.

It feels very similar to grief– the way one minute feels as though nothing will ever be okay again, and the next minute feels as though everything’s going to be okay after all.

I cry everyday out of both pain and frustration. It’s been the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever faced. To be so helpless. To feel weak and fragile and hurt. And at the constant mercy of others.

And yet that mercy has been holy. And constant. And beautiful. The love and support and strength and generosity from my family and friends.  Mom: No words. Thanks to you, we’ve laughed as much or more than we’ve cried. (Okay that’s a lie. But damn if you’re not trying to make it so) It has felt like a feather bed. Like a soft place to land. Most days. A reassuring and steady rhythm whispering, “you are not alone…you will not bear this by yourself…” And sometimes, I believe it.

Except for when I don’t.

Because there are moments. Days. Nights. Where it is suddenly much more clear. I am alone in this. No one truly bears it but me. When I am cold and unable to pull up the blankets or pull on a pair of socks. When I’m hungry but will have to wait until someone can feed me. When I can’t reach something I need and I can’t adjust my position to get it, either. Just to name a few. Hundred. After days of crying hot tears of humility and embarrassment in the bathroom, I stubbornly figured that out. Because really. A person has their limits.

And I totally get it. People have jobs and events and commitments. Busy lives. They have the luxury of stepping outside of this and stepping back in at their convenience.

But I don’t. And it’s hard.

Please don’t misunderstand me. This is not cancer. It is not terminal. I get it. But it is still a huge, painful, lonely, suck.

Occasionally, well-meaning people will joke that I should enjoy all this lying around, all this being waited on business.

No.

No. I don’t enjoy it at all. I don’t want to work on my tan. I don’t want people at my beck and call. To a fault, perhaps, I do not enjoy being helped and served and on the receiving end. And I know. It’s already been said– how good it is to learn these things- being a gracious recipient. Allowing people the pleasure of helping you.

But it doesn’t feel like a pleasure or a gift. It feels like a burden.

One big gigantic burden. Again.

(God. Seriously. Because the whole widowed/divorced suitcase is also being dragged along as well. Though not by me BECAUSE IT WOULD BE TOO EFFING HEAVY.)

For a person who is a do-er, a self-proclaimed DIY Girl, this is a nightmare. For a person who stubbornly wants to be independent, who loves to be alone, who would much rather figure it all out than have it done for her, this does not feel good.

As I was lying on the gurney, waiting to be wheeled into surgery, my dear, weary mother, looking over at my tear-stained face, said these words:

“You don’t have to keep tap dancing for us. It’s okay. We all love you. You are enough even when you can’t keep performing.”

Woah.

But when tap dancing is your way of life, all you really want is to get back out on the floor.

Life Requires Time and Space

Green Lake

I get choked up every time. Every. Single. Time. There is something about a morning walk or run through the tiny little park not far from my house. The sunrise reflecting off the water. The stillness of this tiny little corner of the world. The way the trees and branches hang out over the jagged little shoreline. And the dock. The lone, long dock looking like a pathway to somewhere else. Anywhere but here.

How many, many times I have sat on that dock wishing I were anywhere but here.

But not this morning.

This morning, I still got choked up. But this morning it was in gratitude. Gratefulness. I sat on that dock thankful that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. Not because everything is perfect. I have finally learned perfection is not the goal nor is it possible.

But everything is okay. 

Better than okay. But in the very least, okay.

And what I’m learning now is life requires time and space. Kind of like the old adage, ‘Time heals all wounds’, but different. I’m not sure I believe time heals all wounds. But what I do believe is time and space help things change shape. Time and space give life a chance to sort things out. Time and space allow things to breathe a little and work themselves out.

A thousand times I’ve walked through this same little park.

I walked through it as a pregnant teenager, not sure how I would ever manage a baby at such a young age. Then I watched that same baby grow up and play baseball on those  diamonds. And now he’s 23.

I walked through that park as a young widow. I cried my heart and soul out on that dock. I could’ve filled Green Lake with those tears. I had no idea what life would look like or how I would go on. But I did.

Time and space.

I walked through that park and sat on that dock worried about my girl. How she would navigate some of the challenges thrown her way. In the next few months she’ll go to prom, get her license, graduate from high school and head to college.

Time and space.

I sat on that dock after my sister experienced several absolutely devastating miscarriages, begging God to please fix this somehow and give her healthy babies. Now they’re 2 and 4.

Time and space.

I ran through that park and collapsed on that dock during the toughest battles of my marriage, grieving everything I thought my life would be and wasn’t.

Time and space.

I sat there for 5 minutes this morning. Just to say thank you. Just to remind myself of all the times I didn’t know how things would ever be okay. And now they are. I know they won’t stay okay forever. I know there will be a lifetime of running through that park and sitting on that dock, wondering how things will turn out. But now I will take a deep breath. I will remind myself that time and space help life change shape.

And somehow, even if it takes a year, or two, or ten, everything’s going to be okay.

Fighting for Gratitude

gratitude

Gratitude has not come easy to me today. You have no idea how much I would love to have woken up this morning completely and totally happy and grateful and smiling. But. I didn’t. I woke up to a quiet, empty house. Sort of sad. Sort of lonely. Peaceful. Totally peaceful. But sort of just… not feeling festive and holiday-ish. I made my coffee, puttered around the kitchen. Fed the dog. Watched a little Scandal and DID give thanks that I don’t have Olivia Pope’s problems. Damn. Those are some big, big problems. All the while trying not to feel what I still feel so often: Broken.

And so I cried. And cried. And cried some more. I let myself feel the ugly, crappy, familiarity of it all. I talked to a few people who really love me so much– and I hated to be the downer in the conversation– because that’s not a role I enjoy. Ever. But they each reminded me of this: I am totally loved. I am totally supported. There is so much right even though sometimes it feels like there is still so much wrong. And that we are all broken in some way or another.

The tide comes in. The tide goes out.  And on holidays especially, it can feel like the tide always comes in. Good news though: It will go out again.

 


 

So if this is you at all today– if you, like me, are struggling with grief of any kind, it’s okay. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.  Allow yourself the chance to feel it and process it and find what’s true in it and what’s not. And then, use whatever self-care techniques work for you– and out of self-love, decide to bounce back. Because it IS a holiday, and despite not everything being exactly the way you’d like, there is still a lot of goodness. Tons. Tons and tons of goodness. So get up. Get dressed. Work out. Turn on happier music. Set a timer for 3 minutes and write down a rampage of everything you have to be grateful for. Pray. Meditate. Read something good.  Watch Scandal. Call or text the people you love and tell them so. It helps and it works and I’m doing it.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m thankful for you.